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CDC signals support of geothermal baseline study

Dealing with a bare-bones board (two board seats remain unfilled as of press time Wednesday) and lacking an executive director, the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation limped through its regularly scheduled meeting Monday, appearing to bleed some of the governmental largesse keeping it afloat.

Also sans a secretary (due to the recently resigned CDC marketing director) and county representation (due to the recently resigned county commissioner John Ranson), the CDC board nonetheless managed to reach consensus on two items: the exigency of filling vacant board seats and funding baseline research regarding the area’s geothermal resources.

Pagosa Springs Mayor (and town representative) Ross Aragon reminded the board that, per its charter, the CDC was operating in violation of board bylaws. Board president Mike Alley assured Aragon that board members would be selected at an executive session (scheduled after press time Wednesday) and that those vacancies would be filled post haste.

Alley also assured the board that, with over a dozen letters of intent, the CDC would soon have an interim executive director.

Filling in for Ranson as board representative, county commissioner Michael Whiting raised the issue of county and town funding for the CDC (jointly exceeding $100,000), suggesting the diversion of a portion of those monies as payment for a geothermal baseline study.

In February, representatives from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) visited Pagosa Springs and recommended a baseline study of the area’s geothermal resources, “(T)o protect existing thermal water users, pressure temperature and flow-rate measurements should be made on all currently used wells and springs on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.”

To those ends, NREL recommended the installation of meters, “(O)n all functioning thermal wells and springs so as to obtain fresh baseline data.”

The results of that monitoring would precede a test of the extent of the reservoir. That test would involve pumping out water from the Pagosa Springs well No. 3 and dumping that water into the river while checking meters for pressure and water levels. Another proposed test would be to drill to various depths, then reinject the pumped water back into the aquifer.

The latter tests the effect of cooled water on the reservoir while the former tests the effect of drawing additional water from the aquifer on existing users.

If the tests confirm the postulate of underutilized resources, the implications could be great economic news for the area. The report recommended two uses — geothermally heated greenhouses and aquaculture — along with a large-scale expansion of the town’s current geothermal heating system.

At Monday’s CDC board meeting, Whiting said, “Given where the CDC is, as far as in transition, well, we’ve lost some momentum and reputation in the last few months.”

To regain traction, Whiting recommended that the town and county each pull $15,000 from CDC contributions to fund NREL’s suggested study for, “Measuring and monetizing geothermal resources.”

“It’s really what makes us unique, from a business standpoint,” he said.

Declaring that he would make that suggestion “At the next opportunity, at the BoCC,” Whiting added, “I’m going to ask the mayor and town council to consider the same thing.”

Referring to a Feb. 24 editorial in The SUN, Whiting added, “Basic infrastructure and research are really government’s role in economic development.”

Responding positively to Whiting’s recommendation, CDC board member Marion Francis said, “I was going to recommend that, because of our reduced need for funding (i.e. no extant salary requirement for an executive director), that we do this exact same thing.”

“I don’t think it (CDC funds) could be used for a better purpose,” Francis added.

Aragon concurred, saying, “I can’t speak for council, but speaking for myself, I have to agree with commissioner Whiting.”

As it was a discussion item, the CDC board was prohibited from voting on Whiting’s suggestion. Indeed, as Whiting had indicated, neither the BoCC nor the Pagosa Springs Town Council had reached any decision, much less discussed the matter.

While Francis suggested that the CDC directly fund the study, Whiting stated that it would be more appropriate for the town and county to take the lead on the project, with the CDC following up with research data as a business recruitment tool.

The following morning, local officials, area residents and geothermal stakeholders met to hear a presentation on the efficacy research would provide towards possible geothermal expansion.

“We want to get an advisory group started,” said Marsha Pruett, owner of Healing Waters Resort and Spa.

Pruett recently sent a letter to NREL supporting the proposed research, committing to install meters on the spa’s wells, at the resort’s expense.

Saying that more accurate knowledge of the aquifer’s extent would benefit everyone, either directly or indirectly, Pruett added that she hoped for widespread interest in potential geothermal development.

“We’re hoping to get everyone who is interested involved, not just stakeholders, to see that this is good for the town,” Pruett said.

“There’s just so much more that can be done,” she added.

Pruett also said that the advisory group decided to set up an escrow account through the Geothermal Greenhouse Partnership towards funding the study.

Even if the town and county sign on with Whiting’s proposal from Monday, some funding would need to come from private interests to fully invest in the study.

The BoCC and Pagosa Springs Town Council meet this morning at 10 a.m. in the BoCC board room for a joint work session; among items of discussion will be Whiting’s proposal. That discussion could determine which entity would take the point on issuing an Request For Proposal to contract for the study.

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